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Marc Prensky

Adopt and Adapt

2005 Marc Prensky

Adopt and Adapt

School Technology in the 21st century
By Marc Prensky
To be published in Edutopia
[0 words]

Adopt: Technology
The intelligent use of technology can transform and improve almost
every aspect of school, modernizing the nature of curriculum, student
assignments, parental connections, and administration. Online
curricula now include lesson plans, simulations, and demonstrations for
classroom use and review. With online connections, students can share
their work and communicate more productively and creatively.
Teachers can maintain records and assessments using software tools
and stay in close touch with students and families via email and
voicemail. Schools can reduce administrative costs by using
technology tools, as other fields have done, and provide more funds for
the classroom.
From Edutopias Big Ideas


the above are certainly true. But the biggest question about
technology and schools in the 21st century is not so much What can it
do? but rather When will it get to do it? We all know life will be
much different by the end of the 21st century. Will school? How close
will we be to Edutopia?
That answer is up to us. At this point some of the vision is there, and
some of the pieces exist. So whats missing? To answer this question,
it helps to look at the typical process of technology adoption (not that
schools are typical of anything, but it helps.)
Technology Adoption Curve

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

People who have looked at the adoption of technology in many

situations have identified four steps in the process:

Doing old things in old ways
Doing old things in new ways
Doing new things in new ways.

Up until relatively recently, we have pretty much been dabbling with

technology in our schools. An Apple here. A PC there. Random creation
of software by teachers and other individuals, some very good, much
bad. Edutainment disks. Roller Coaster Tycoon occasionally. Dabbling.
Old Things in Old Ways
When several years ago we decided to connect all our schools to the
Internet, we began to stop just dabbling, and to enter the next stage:
using technology to old things in old ways.
What does this mean? Well, Our first instinct is always to do continue
the old stuff (what weve always done) in old ways more or less how
weve done it. Remember when TV first started? One of the first
things they did was to go to theaters and film plays, using a single,
immobile camera mounted in a great seat. The result was pretty
much likegoing to the theater. Some things were definitely lost, but it
was certainly cheaper, and far more efficient for the audienceno
need to pull out that moth-eaten tux, or to pay a fortune for that
great seat. And that is what we are currently doing with educational
technologywe use it mostly to pass around documents, just in
electronic form and the result isschool. Not very different than we
have ever known it.
As the opening quote says, we are in the process of putting courses,
curricula and lesson plans online. This is useful and important, but its
hardly newand it wont be new until the courses curricula and lesson
plans are very different and technology-influenced, until they are set
up so that they can be found, mixed and matched easily, until they are
continually iterated and updated, and until the kids have a big say in
their creation. Yes, systems for maintaining records and assessment,
online have emerged, but the records and assessments we ask for and
keep, for the most part, havent changed at all.
I would even put writing, creating, submitting and sharing work
digitally on the computer via email or IM in the category of doing old

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

things (i.e. communicating and exchanging) in old ways (i.e. passing

stuff around.) Is it progress, though? Well, it appears that kids who get
to write in the computer turn in longer assignments and better
assignment than kids who write by hand, even though its still writing.
I just heard a middle school principal proclaim that the debate over
handwriting is finally over (mourn it if you mustthe kids certainly
So yes, there s some progress. But unfortunately there is a stage in
technology adoption even before old things in old ways, and
dabbling. This
is Luddism rejecting the new technology as
disruptive (or something else) and banning it entirely. Even today, in
many schools with computers, the machines are locked down and
email by students is not permitted. Nor are instant messaging, cell
phones, cell phone cameras, unfiltered Internet access, Wikipedia and
other potentially highly effective educational tools.
So, as we put more and more stuff online, thats good, but lets not pat
ourselves on the back too quickly. Today, pretty much all educational
materials and records online are just using technology to do old stuff
in old ways.
Old Things In New Ways
Of course, just as handwriting has been pronounced dead, I read about
a new robot arm technology designed to help teach handwriting! In
this case, its probably too late. But some of our schools (and let me
emphasize this is currently a very small number) are now beginning to
enter the stage of doing old things in new ways. And here it gets a
little more interesting.
When we begin adding digital demonstrations, through video and
Flash animation, we are giving students new ways to do what they had
been doing before. I used to have to tell my students about
phenomena (or have them read); now I can show them, says a middle
school science teacher. And in a growing number of simulations,
students can now try things, manipulating whole virtual systems,
from cities to countries to refineries rather than wooden blocks. This is
progress as well. Students can begin to act more like scientists than
like empty vessels into which we pour content. Ideally, through
controlled experimentation and what scientists call enlightened trial
and error, students can arrive at their own conclusions, rather than
being handed the right answer to memorize. But we have always used
interactive models for demonstrations and done simulations on sand,
paper and in our heads. These are still old things in new ways.

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

What are some of the other old things now making their way into the
schools in new ways? Old-fashioned expository writing and diaries are
being turned into into Blogs. Shared blackboards are being turned into
Wikis. Team meetings are being turned into NetMeetings. Outlining and
creative thinking is being turned into Inspiration (i.e. the software.)
But there are many more old things being done in new ways in todays
kids lives that are not yet making their way into our schools. These are
things that our Digital Native kids have invented or adopted as their
own, including: buying school clothes, supplies and even schoolwork on
eBay and the Internet; exchanging music on P2P sites; building games
with modding tools; setting up meetings and dates online; posting
personal information and creations for others to check out; meeting
people through their cell phones; building up libraries of music and
movies; working together in self-formed teams in modding and
massively multiplayer online role playing games; creating and using
online reputation systems; peer rating of comments; online gaming;
screen saver analysis; photoblogging; programming; exploring; and
even transgressing and testing social norms.
An important question is how many of these old things in new ways
will ever be integrated into our instruction or even understood by
educators! But if we are to move the helpful adoption of technology
forward, it is crucial for the educations to listen, observe and try what
the kids have already figured out.
If technology adoption by our schools is so important, whats standing
in the way of our making more, and faster, progress? Two things, I
would assert: one technological, the other social.
The Big Technological Barrier: True One-to-One (plus)
The first element missing element is true one-to-one. This means
each students having a device that he or she can work on, keep,
customize, and take home a device that is basically theirs for the
year, or forever. With the advent of cell phones and iPods, this really
means many devices to one student, all of which hopefully get used in
the educational process.
The big point here is that any ratio that involves sharing computers, as
we currently have in so many of our schools, will prevent the
technology revolution in schools from happeningdespite the fact, as

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

many of you may be thinkingthat sharing is often helpful. The reason

is that any learning computer, when used properly and well for
education, needs to become effectively an extension of the students
personal self and brain. It has to have each students stuff and each
students style all over it (kids love to customize and make technology
personal), and that is something that sharing just doesnt allow.
Many groups are working on the one-to-one problem, and there are
several places in which it is being currently implemented, including the
State of Maine, Vail AZ, The Broward County Schools in FL, Lemon
Grove District in CA among others. If you want to get involved or find
out more, I recommend that you check out Project Inkwell at
www.projectinkwell.com. This is an organization trying to bring some
organization to the move to one-to-one that is taking place around the
U.S. and the world. Its approach is to work with educators and vendors
to set minimum specifications for one-to-one computing (for
everything from the hardware to the process) so that our kids wind up
with computers, and computing, designed for educationrather than
just cheap business laptops or whatever else is available. The group is
also addressing all the many infrastructure questions that accompany
such a change, from software, to administration, to teacher training.
And for those who cite money as the problem, the prices of one-to-one
devices are certainly coming downto roughly $100 for the most
basic, hand cranked machine (if you believe the folks at MIT) and
certainly something less than schools are paying today for more
advanced, school-oriented devices.
The Social Barrier: Digital Immigrants
The second key barrier to technological adoption, of course, is people.
When trying to do even old things in new ways, we meet resistance.
Schools (which really means the teachers and administrators) famously
resist change. As soon as any new technology has come down the pike,
from radio, to TV, to telephones, to cell phones, to cameras, to video
cams, or even the Wikipedia, our good old American school tradition
has been ready to fear and ban it!
In the past this may not have mattered so much, but today it is lethal
(to our kids, that is.) We all live in a very different, incredibly fast
moving world. Todays and tomorrows kids not only need things faster
than their teachers are used to providing them (their number one
request is for email an instant messaging to be always available and
part of school), but they are very different people. In other places, I
have characterized todays students as Digital Natives, born into

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

digital technology, and their teachers as Digital Immigrants, who,

having had to learn the technology later in life, still retain a pre-digital
accent. (See www.marcprensky.com/writing/). Elements of the Digital
immigrant accent, like thinking virtual relationships and things a re
somehow less real or important than face-to-face ones, are serious
Many of our schools still ban many new technologies, such as cell
phones and the Wikipedia, wholesale. Many parents are also up in
arms, typically demanding back to basics. Many teachers are so
afraid to experiment and trust their kids that they demand training
before trying anything. All this impedes even the many schools trying
to change.
The Real Problem, The Real Solution
The real problem is that adding digital technology is pretty disruptive
to what schools and teachers do currently, and nobody yet really
knows how to make the technology work to maximum advantage.
Even when you hear about great things going on in various places,
when you show up in those classrooms you find that they are still
struggling with many details.
So how, then, do we make progress?
If we were smart, well ask the kids. Our students are far, far ahead of
their teachers and administrators in trying to figure digital technology
out. The problem is, in most cases nobodys listening to them. I go to
conference after conference on school technology (Im at one as I write
this), and nary a kid is invited or in sight. After having pointed this out
100 times or so, I do hope this situation will start to change. We
cannot, no matter how hard we try or how smart we are (or think we
are) invent the future education of our kids for them. To move forward
we need to combine what they know about technology with what we
know about education. They will have to help, and we will have to
think harder about how to make this happen.
New Things in New Ways : Invention as the Road to Edutopia
And, with (hopefully) or without the kids, wed better start inventing,
and fastwhether it be new curricula, organization, architecture,
teaching, student assignments, parental connections, administration,
or other things. Some suggest using new models from businessbut
these are already too old. Some want to change the size of schools
but this will not help much if you still do the wrong things. Remember,

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

what were talking about is creation new things in new ways. Wed
be smart to begin by throwing out almost all the bathwater, given that
theres hardly any baby there worth keeping, and some radical places
have done this. Change is the order of the day in kids lives, and it
ought to be in their schools, with every class, every school, every
district and every state trying something, and then reporting to all of
us on a timely basis what is working and what isnt (we do all have an
Internet, after all, for this.)
Some may worry that, if we do all this experimentation, will the kids
educations be hurt? When, they might ask, will we have time for the
curriculum, and for all the standardized testing being mandated?
Heres my answer:
If we really offered our kids some great experiments, like, for example,
that they could learn about nanotechnology, bioethics, genetic
medicine and neuroscience in neat interactive ways from real experts,
and that they could develop their skills in programming, knowledge
filtering, using their connectivity and maximizing their hardware, and
that they could do these with cutting-edge technology that was
powerful, miniaturized, customizable and one-to-one, I would bet a lot
they would agree to achieve, and would achieve, completing the
normal curriculum in half the time or less, with high test scores all
around (to get to the good stuff, the better kids would work with and
pull up the ones who were behind.)
In other words, if we truly offer our kids an Edutopia worth having, I
believe our students will work as hard as they can to get there!
So lets not just adopt technology into our schools. Lets adapt it,
push it, pull it, iterate with it, experiment with it, test it and re-do it,
until we reach the point where we and our kids truly feel weve done
our very best. And then lets do it some more.
And lets do it quickly, so the 22 nd century doesnt catch us by surprise
with too much of our work undone.
A lot of work? Absolutely. But our kids deserve no less!

Marc Prensky is an internationally acclaimed thought leader, speaker, writer, consultant, and game
designer in the critical areas of education and learning. He is the author of Digital Game-Based Learning
(McGraw Hill, 2001) and the upcoming Dont Bother Me, Mom, Im Learning (Paragon, 2005). Marc is
the founder and CEO of Games2train, a game-based learning company, whose clients include IBM, Bank

Marc Prensky
Adopt and Adapt
2005 Marc Prensky

of America, Pfizer , the U.S. Department of Defense and the LA and Florida Virtual Schools. He is also the
creator of the sites www.SocialImpactGames.com, and www.GamesParentsTeachers.com . Marc holds an
MBA from Harvard and a Masters in Teaching from Yale. More of his writings can be found at
www.marcprensky.com/writing/default.asp . Marc can be contacted at marc@games2train.com .